I have always looked much younger than my age. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, this was a huge issue for me. I got refused entry to the cinema to see films that my younger brother had no problem being admitted to. I was forever being asked for proof of age in pubs and clubs.
But as you get older, looking younger becomes a big bonus. I’d love to say that clean living had played a huge part in my often being taken for at least ten years younger than my actual age, but most of the thanks go to my youthful looking Mum for passing on her genes.
Don’t get me wrong though, despite my good skin and relative lack of wrinkles, I’ve never actually been happy with my looks – is anyone? (Oh how my sisters and I wish the current trend for big booties had been the fashion in our teens!) I did go through a phase, maybe the decade from forty to fifty, where I came to terms with my body and my face and thought, you know that’s not so bad. But age has a habit of creeping up on you when you’re not paying attention – and if you’re younger than fifty reading this, maybe you’d better not read on unless you want a taste of what’s to come.
We are very, very fortunate to have a wonderful National Health Service, but one of the downsides of it, is that it marks the passage of time. Here in Scotland when you turn fifty, you qualify for bowel screening and breast screening. Huge positives, don’t get me wrong, but I still recall the bowel screening pack arriving the day after my fiftieth birthday. Then it started, my body and the NHS in cahoots, to remind me that I was no longer a spring chicken. I started making strange ‘oof’ noises when I sit down or stand up. My sock marks stick around for hours and hours on my ankles, long after I’ve taken them off (the socks, not the ankles). I abandoned life-long principles about cosmetic surgery, and started to fantasise about a version of it that is utterly painless, totally risk free, and cost free too. I have these strange conversations with my friends and my sisters about which bit of my body I would choose to go under the fantasy knife (knees in my case, if you’re wondering, I would love a pain-free, risk-free and conscience-free knee-lift).
However, neither my conscience nor my purse nor my nurse-sister (every surgery is a risk!) will let me consider cosmetic surgery, I decided to do my very best to preserve what I had. I wanted to stop the ageing process, basically, and threw myself into exercise and diet. But once you hit fifty, exercise and diet are really, really slow and difficult solutions. It’s a gargantuan effort to shift a kilo or so, and even more of a gargantuan effort to redistribute what’s left. (The search for big pants that do that for you takes up hours and hours of my ‘Mum and Sisters’ WhatsApp group. I’ve reached the conclusion that all they do is shift one floppy bit to another bit of your body but never say never: my sisters are currently having a heated debate about M&S tummy tucking thongs!)
My mum never told me about the perils of growing old. She once told me that she looks in the mirror expecting to see a seventeen year old, and she’s constantly taken aback by her current self, but she never issued any warnings about the effect that gravity has on your 50+ body. She never cautioned me about the need to travel with tweezers, or the shock (the very serious shock) of discovering that first, treacherous hint of grey. I’m remedying that oversight. Being the eldest sibling, I am using our WhatsApp group to make sure all four of my sisters are all well-warned and more prepared. I think they appreciate it!
The sad truth about my age though, is that I’ve never came to terms with it since my fiftieth birthday. I’ve never lied about it to anyone but myself, though I’ve always been coy, and happy when people assume that I’m miles younger than I am. When I turned 57, I decided I was going to stick there. It was no problem for people who didn’t know any better because I don’t look like what people expect a woman approaching sixty to look like. So I could happily kid myself on, and I did.
The a couple of months ago one of my best friends turned sixty. We were in the same year at school. That meant that I’d be turning sixty this year too. I put my hands over my ears and sang la, la, la, but in the middle of the night I’d wake up and think, I’m going to be sixty. SIXTY! How can that be? I’ll have to start wearing twinsets and slacks and pop socks and extra wide sandals for my bunions (which I don’t actually have, incidentally). All those ads on day-time tv for life insurance and paying for your funeral, they are aimed at me!!! Did I catch myself eyeing that walk-in shower with the seat covetously? And did I have a secret hankering for one of those chairs with a footrest that tip you up? I cannot tell you how many antiquated prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions went sailing through my head in the small hours. I’m not stupid, I pride myself on being a thinker, someone who understands themselves and their motivations, but when it came to age I was completely and utterly blind.
As you might know from some of my more recent blogs, I’ve been slowing down the hectic pace of my writing and taking some long overdue time to think about what I want to write. And hand-in-hand with that thinking, I’ve been slowly coming to understand my own very mixed-up emotions about age. When my mum hade a big birthday last year, my father started telling her to to take it easy, to remember what age she was. Her reaction was to fight back – now is the time to make the most of things, she said, to speed up and not slow down. To fight other people’s preconceptions, in other words (my mum is so clever). But what I had to fight were my own biases and entrenched ideas. (And for the record, there’s nothing at all wrong with slack or twinsets or pop socks or comfy seats, these are MY preconceptions.)
I’m going to be sixty. So what? Is sixty the new 50? Or the new 45? Does it even matter? Astoundingly, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t. I’m going to carry on being me! I’m going to carry on fighting the good fight against my body’s determined efforts to re-shape itself. I’m going to have to get my hair coloured more often. Losing those few kilos is going to be harder work, but if I change my workouts to have more pilates, that should help. I’m not going to change how I dress or how I think, and I’m going to embrace the fact that I actually do look good ‘for my age’ – whatever that means. So I’ve ‘come out’ on Tiktok, putting the real, un-doctored me on video, and though my voice still makes me cringe (I sound like a wee Highland lassie) I’m discovering that it’s also fun just to be me, whether I’m having a good or bad hair day.
What else? I’m going to make much better use of my time. A friend (a much younger friend, since I’m being ageist here) informed me that this is actually something that lots of people are doing. The pandemic has made us all so much more aware of how precious life is, and as I’ve mentioned recently on this blog, lots and lots of people are making momentous life changes – those who are fortunate enough to be able to. Energy-sapping friends are being dropped. Careers are being re-shaped or abandoned. New doors are being pushed open. Gardening and sewing and all sorts of creative arts are being taken up – including writing. We’ve started sending letters and cards again, instead of emails. I don’t know if any of these changes will stick, but at the moment, it feels like a big positive out of an appalling, heart-breaking catastrophe.
So I’m going to be sixty in October (there, I’ve said it) and I’m going to do my very best to be Slick at Sixty, so that for once, when I move into a new decade, I can be happy with how I look. I’m going to recapture the Late Onset Vanity I had in my fifties, and make it work for me again. I’ve got the forms for my bus pass and my ferry pass ready to send off. I’m secretly hoping that when I use them, I’ll be questioned.
I’m still writing because I still love to write, but my focus is changing just a little bit – more on that when I know more myself. I’m still loving writing historical romances, but my couples are getting older. In my current WIP (His Runaway Marchioness Returns) my heroine has been re-evaluating her life just as so many of us have now. I’m going to splurge on a new bike and a new cover-locker sewing machine, because both will give me huge pleasure. I’m not having a birthday party and I’m not having a cake because I never have celebrated in that way, but when the day comes, I hope – I plan! – to be ready for it, and to see it for what it is. Another day to make the most of.
And if someone in my family ignores my pleas to keep the fateful number off my birthday cards, then I’ll deal with that too. After all, it’s only a number.